Hella Nation: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wingnut’s War Against the GAP, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America

Evan Wright began his journalism career as an editor at Hustler magazine, and the amiable con man sensibility he developed in Porn Valley has served him well as an immersion journalist specializing in outsider culture. In 2003, he embedded with a Marine Reconnaissance battalion in Iraq for Rolling Stone, and his first book, Generation Kill, detailed his time there. Wright has returned with Hella Nation, a collection of his most outlandish adventures from 1997 to 2007, including an entrée into the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nation compound in Idaho, a crime spree with the violent, tree-sitting anarchists of the West Coast environmental movement, and one deadly investigation of a human growth hormone con operation in Arizona. Wright’s piece on Pat Dollard, however, manages somehow to eclipse the rest of the magnificent coverage in the book. Once a smarmy, coke-snorting Hollywood agent, Dollard became frustrated with what he considered the leftist coverage of the Iraq war, so he hopped a flight to Fallujah, embedded with a platoon, and returned with over 300 hours of film. Wright follows the drug-addled documentarian’s efforts to sell his movie, Young Americans (often stalled by alcohol and amphetamine benders) — the resulting Vanity Fair piece became the longest profile of a single person in the magazine’s history. Wright’s style owes a hat tip to Hunter S. Thompson, but he has one up on the bleary-eyed King of Gonzo. Instead of headlining his own white-knuckle exploits, Wright uses his extraordinary insider access to expose the meat and marrow of the nation’s underbelly.